Orfordville twins ready for college at age 16

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Gina Duwe
Tuesday, May 27, 2014

ORFORDVILLE--Identical twins Marina and Haley Gookin joke they spent much of high school in their pajamas.

They procrastinated, they admit, and slept in.

Don't let that fool you.

They completed four Advanced Placement courses and compiled grade-point averages above 4.0--all from the comfort of their desks in their shared bedroom.  

At age 16, they are graduating next week from Wisconsin Virtual Academy and plan to attend Boston University in fall to study engineering.

“I'm interested in working with spacecraft,” Marina said.

And Haley?

“The same,” she said.

“We share a room 24 hours a day. It's hard not to” have similar interests, Marina said.

The sisters finish each other's sentences as they talk about their futures around the kitchen table with their parents, Devon and Jennifer.

Aside from similar looks, they share mannerisms and talk with their hands. Their long, dark blond hair, bangs, glasses and pierced ears could confuse a stranger.

They knew they wanted to go to the same college but not share the same dorm room, Haley said.

“We requested specifically, 'Don't put us together. If you do, you're only going to have one twin left by the end of the year,'” Marina said jokingly as the family laughed.

The girls started school in the Parkview district and did their first two years of online school through Wisconsin Virtual Learning before switching to Wisconsin Virtual Academy.

In third grade, their teacher said they weren't challenged enough and recommended they skip a grade based on their test scores. They talked as a family and with the principal and decided the girls would skip fourth grade.

Jennifer substitute teaches in the Parkview district, and Devon served on the Parkview School Board from 2007 to 2011.

In sixth grade, the girls took one online course because they still didn't feel challenged, their dad said. They decided to switch full time to virtual school for more opportunities.

They combined seventh and eighth grades in the same year through Wisconsin Virtual Learning. Marina and Haley completed 10th, 11th and 12th grades through Wisconsin Virtual Academy, a charter school affiliated with the McFarland School District.

The virtual option provided classes unavailable at small brick-and-mortar schools, the family said, as they rattled through the list of Advanced Placement and other courses the girls took, such as 3-D modeling.

The teens were drawn to the intellectual community of Boston, an area with more than 250,000 college students. They wound up at Boston University because "they're the ones that accepted us that were farthest from home that we could afford,” Marina said, eliciting laughter from her family.

UW-Madison also accepted the twins, but that was too close, they said.

“They want to move out. They want to be adventurous,” their mom said.

A combination of factors likely made it difficult to for them gain acceptance at more universities, the family suspects.

“They don't always like taking twins, and they don't always like taking younger students,” Marina said.

“They're just starting to understand what virtual school is,” Devon said of college admissions officials. “Some people think virtual school is home schooling.”

“Sometimes people think that it's easier, even though it's as easy as you want to make it,” Marina said.

“For us, it's a lot harder,” Haley added.

The teens made it “very difficult” for themselves so they could feel challenged. Curriculum is set so students can work at their levels—from the base class or a little above or below to honors or AP courses.

“They were able to move at their own pace and not do the prescribed ninth grade science class,” Jennifer said.

Devon works from home, and the school is set up so the parents are the “learning coaches.” They enter attendance and make sure assigned work is completed. 

The girls were involved in student council at their virtual school, volunteered locally and tutored, took karate lessons and occasionally attended meet-up nights such as pizza and bowling with other virtual school students.

Any senioritis this year?

“Guilty,” mom said, pointing at Marina with a smile.

Jennifer and Devon are preparing to become empty nesters, big time. The twins' older sister, Kira, graduated from Parkview two years ago and has been attending UW-Rock County. She'll leave for UW-Whitewater in fall, too.

“You have the dogs!” one of the twins assured her mom.

“I'm totally confident in them. I'm ready,” Jennifer said earlier. “I have no doubt they'll be successful, so that makes it easier. … They're going to the same place. I know they'll have each other.”

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